J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The High Street, Oxford c.1825-39

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The High Street, Oxford c.1825–39
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 3
Watercolour on white wove paper, 305 x 485 mm laid down on white laid paper trimmed to the same dimensions
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1816’
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 3’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is one of five loose colour studies (the others being Tate D25126, D25127, D25228, D25485; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 4, 5, 106, 362) showing the view west up Oxford’s High Street, comparable with that seen in the oil painting High Street, Oxford, exhibited in 1810 (private collection, on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)1 and engraved in 1812 (no Tate impressions). A sixth shows the view in the opposite direction (Tate D36316; Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26).
Andrew Wilton has suggested that the group of five was made between about 1830 and 1835, based on a pencil drawing in the 1830 Kenilworth sketchbook (Tate D21976; Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 1a),2 made from the junction with Queen’s Lane, with The Queen’s College in the right foreground, University College further down the High Street on the left, the spire of St Mary’s Church beyond All Souls College on the right, and the spire of All Saints Church in the distance. There are separate sketches showing variations on the view, made in about 1798 (Tate D00666, D08219; Turner Bequest XXVII E, CXX F) and two later ones in the Oxford sketchbook, in use between about 1834 and 18383 (Tate D27903, D27908; Turner Bequest CCLXXXV 2a, 5a). Anne Lyles has noted that the Kenilworth sketch only corresponds closely with D25126 and D25228 (CCLXIII 4, 106).4
Wilton’s suggestion that the five colour studies were ‘almost certainly preliminary exercises’ towards a design for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales has been followed by later commentators;5 his assertion that ‘the whole group was evidently done at one sitting’6 seems feasible. However, his dating of all five to the early 1830s is rendered impossible by the 1837 watermark of D25485 (CCLXIII 362), as is John Gage’s ‘c.1832/5’,7 relating them to the watercolour Christ Church College, Oxford of about 1832 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford),8 engraved in that year for England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05094, T06108).
Lyles has suggested that the five studies actually represent two campaigns, with the present work (watermarked 1816) and D25127 (CCLXIII 5) having been made as early as ‘?c.1820–5’, and the others (including the one watermarked 1837) around ‘1837–9’.9 The first two, with their ‘colder colour ranges of blues, yellows and greys’,10 might have been for England and Wales, but as the project concluded prematurely in 1838 she argues that Turner would be have been unlikely to embark on further studies after 1837. Instead she proposes that the three further studies, with their common ‘pinks, purples and blues’, might have been intended for a central Oxford counterpoint to the watercolour (Manchester Art Gallery)11 commissioned by the Oxford printseller James Ryman and engraved in 1841 as Oxford from North Hinksey.12 Tate D25220 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 98) is a colour study related to the latter.
Eric Shanes has acknowledged the possibility of two phases of High Street views, without making any link from the second to Oxford from North Hinksey.13 (See the introduction to this Oxford subsection for connections between a colour study for the latter and other views in the city.) He has suggested that the existence of five variants suggests that Turner ‘encountered some fundamental problem with the design’.14 Colin Harrison has noted that the extensive studies show that ‘Turner attached a great deal of importance to this new view’, assuming that the five all date to the later 1830s, along with other Oxford colour studies: ‘They cannot be placed in any logical order, and, while some compositions correspond more closely with the sketches in the “Oxford” sketchbook, this is almost accidental.’15
An overall range of about 1825–39 has been assigned here to encompass the two schools of thought, approximately corresponding also with the period of Turner’s engagement with the England and Wales project. See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised Oxford subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.73–4 no.102, Pl.109 (colour).
Wilton in Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.125; followed in Shanes 1990, pp.260, 286 note 205.
See Harrison 2000, p.88.
Lyles 1992, p.56.
Wilton 1974, p.125; see also p.26, Wilton 1979, pp.187, 191 note 31, Youngblood 1984, p.18, and Shanes 1997, pp.19, 26, 86, 95, 100, 104.
Wilton 1974, p.26.
Gage 1987, p.[86].
Wilton 1979, p.400 no.853.
Lyles 1992, pp.57–8.
Ibid., p.58.
Wilton 1979, p.404 no.889, reproduced.
Lyles 1992, p.58.
Shanes 1997, pp.26, 86.
Shanes 1990, p.260.
Harrison 2000, p.91.
Technical notes:
Wilton has characterised the watercolour as ‘blocked out boldly and simply in pale yellow and blue with an intensification of the tonal contrast to grey and white’ in the distance, while ‘other versions show a more elaborate treatment of light.’1
Wilton 1974, p.125.
Blank (laid down and not examined).

Matthew Imms
March 2013

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The High Street, Oxford c.1825–39 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-high-street-oxford-r1144332, accessed 14 July 2024.